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Opopanax or opoponax, refers to a kind of gum resin (natural substance that is a mixture of water-soluble gum and alcohol-soluble resin) obtained from a plant called πάνακες (Panaces, Panakes, Panax or Panacea), traditionally considered to have medicinal properties. Pliny (Historia Naturalis) and Dioscorides (De Materia Medica) described various kinds of Panaces with uncertain identifications.[1] However, according to Dioscorides, opopanax was obtained from a kind of Panaces named πάνακες Ἡράκλειον (Panaces Heracleum, Panaces Heraclion or Panakes Herakleion), which has been identified as Opopanax chironium[2][3], Opopanax hispidus[4] and species of Heracleum[5].

In recent times, the commercial opopanax is actually bisabol or hadi obtained from Commiphora guidottii, and it is mainly used in perfumery.[6] The resin of C. kataf (synonym: C. erythraea), known as hagar, is often sold as opopanax as well, though its scent is very different from that of hadi.[7] The confusion between hadi and hagar is attributable to historical misidentification.[6]


The name opopanax derives from Anglo-Norman opopanac, from Latin opopanax, from Hellenistic Greek ὀποπάναξ, from Ancient Greek ὀπός "vegetable juice" + πάναξ "panacea" (all healing).[8] Panacea (Gk. πανάκεια) denotes a kind of savory, named for Panakeia, a daughter of Aesculapius.[9]

The OED gives opopanax as the principal spelling, but lists opoponax as a variant spelling recorded from the 19th century.


Bisabol or bissa bol (Hindi), also known as hebbakhade, habaghadi, habak hadi (Somali), is a major export article from Somalia since ancient times. The botanical origin of bisabol is Commiphora guidottii, not C. erythraea as generally has been presumed.[6] Bisabol is often called sweet myrrh, while true myrrh from C. myrrha, known as hirabol or heera bol, is often called bitter myrrh.


Bisabol is usually sold as "opoponax" and used as an ingredient in perfume. It is therefore called opopanax of perfume, perfumed bdellium, perfumed myrrh, sweet myrrh or scented myrrh to be distinguished from medicinal opopanax and true myrrh.[6] A resinoid is prepared from the resin by solvent extraction. Steam distillation of the resin gives the essential oil, which has a warm, sweet, balsamic odor. Opopanax oil and resinoid are used in perfumes with oriental characteristics. An IFRA recommendation exists.[10]


Opopanax is also known as "perfumed bdellium".[11]

Bdellium is a semi-transparent resin extracted from Commiphora roxburgii and from Commiphora africana. Both resins were used as incense. They are referred to by Pliny (Historia Naturalis, 12:36) as Bactrian and Nubian bdellium. The bdellium referred to by Dioscorides as "the bdellium imported from Petra" (De Materia Medica, 1:80) is probably the resin of Hyphaene thebaica, a species of palm.[12]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "panaces", Oxford Latin Dictionary, Oxford University Press, 1968, p. 1288
  2. ^ Dioscorides, Pedanius (1902). Des Pedanios Dioskurides aus Anazarbos. Translated by Julius Berendes. Stuttgart, Germany: Verlag von Ferdinand Enke. pp. 295–297.
  3. ^ Royle, John Forbes (1847). Carson, Joseph (ed.). Materia Medica and Therapeutics: Including the Preparations of the Pharmacopoeias of London, Edinburgh, Dublin, and (of the United States) with Many New Medicines. Philadelphia, US: Lea and Blanchard. p. 405.
  4. ^ Dioscorides, Pedanius (2017). De materia medica. Translated by Lily Y. Beck (3rd ed.). Hildesheim, Germany: Georg Olms Verlag. ISBN 9783487155715.
  5. ^ Osbaldeston, Tess Anne (translator) (2000). "3.55 Panakes Herakleion". Dioscorides. Johannesburg: Ibidis Press. Archived from the original on 2014-09-24. Panances heracleum (from which opopanax is gathered) grows in abundance in Boeotia, and Psophis in Arcadia... The [dried] juice that excels is the most bitter to the taste, inside indeed white and somewhat red, but outside a saffron colour, smooth, fat, brittle, fit for use, melting quickly, and with a strong scent;
  6. ^ a b c d Thulin, Mats; Claeson, Per (1991). "The Botanical Origin of Scented Myrrh (Bissabol or Habak Hadi)". Economic Botany. 45 (4): 487–494. doi:10.1007/BF02930711. ISSN 0013-0001. JSTOR 4255391.
  7. ^ "Opoponax-Scented Myrrh-Commiphora Erythrea- Co-op harvested". Apothecary's Garden. Retrieved 2019-08-30.
  8. ^ "opopanax". Oxford English Dictionary. Retrieved 2009-12-27. (subscription required)
  9. ^ "panacēa", Oxford Latin Dictionary, Oxford University Press, 1968, p. 1288
  10. ^ Karl-Georg Fahlbusch; et al. (2007), "Flavors and Fragrances", Ullmann's Encyclopedia of Industrial Chemistry (7th ed.), Wiley, pp. 107–108
  11. ^ Lumír O. Hanuš; et al. (2005), "Myrrh-Commiphora Chemistry", Biomed. Papers, 149 (1): 3–23, doi:10.5507/bp.2005.001, PMID 16170385
  12. ^ Jehuda Feliks (2007), "Bdellium", Encyclopaedia Judaica, 3 (2nd ed.), Thomson Gale, p. 234